Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Basil's Bite

When our friends Jen and Joey visited a few weeks ago, Virginia and I bumped up our alcohol consumption a bit. This isn't to say that we are usually teetotalers or that Jen and Joey are a bad influence; the truth of the matter is that they are just a great pair to hang out with, and tend to be fine companions when one wants to take a trip through the liquor cabinet.

One night, shortly before they left, Joey and I decided that we had grown bored with the meager offerings of my booze collection. In search of mountains unclimbed and wonders untasted, we wandered down to North End Liquors, my favorite local booze emporium.

As a side-note, most liquor stores in my neighborhood are vaguely reminiscent of a methadone clinic. To purchase something, one walks into a narrow, cramped little room. On three sides, there are walls constructed out of bulletproof glass, through which one can see the establishment's entire selection of booze. By a combination of pointing, yelling, and performing a sort of booze-themed game of charades, one picks out the liquor of choice, ascertains the price, and passes over the dough.

Needless to say, the entire experience is a little unsatisfying, particularly for those of us who like to read labels or comparison shop.

The North End Liquor Store on Webster Avenue, near Fordham Road, may well be the only traditional liquor store on this side of Arthur Avenue. The shop always has a great selection of bargain-priced wines, as well as all the basic liquor-cabinet standards. Best of all, it consistently maintains a good selection of weird little liqueurs and bizarre tipples.

On the night in question, Joey and I decided that our goal was to find the most bizarre booze that the store had to offer. After about fifteen minutes of searching, we narrowed the field down to three choices: Kummel, a German caraway-flavored liqueur; Aperol, which was flavored with "China, Gentian, and Rhubarb"; and Cynar, which boasted an image of an artichoke and looked like something devised by a Soviet-era propagandist. After some soul-searching -- and the sad discovery that the Kummel wasn't even in the store's database -- we decided that both the Aperol and Cynar were needed at home.

When we got back to the apartmen, we discovered that we loved the Aperol and hated the Cynar. To be fair, however, after a few shots and some bleary-eyed contemplation of the Cynar's label, we felt an unexplainable desire to overthrow the government and put an artichoke in charge.

At any rate, that's where it all lay until I found this recipe in Mr. Boston. Not only did it use the weird-ass liqueurs that were gathering dust in my liquor cabinet, but it even made use of basil. Seriously, what could be better?

Admittedly, it isn't the best drink. I made it with Rogue, my better gin, but even that couldn't erase the horror of the Cynar. The finished product was mildly sweet and complex, with a really unpleasant, vegetal, bitter aftertaste that was slightly reminiscent of homemade absinthe. After a while, the aftertaste faded, but never completely went away.

Bottom line, this tasted like some sort of nineteenth-century vegetable tonic that was supposedly good for you, but was later found to contain laudanum.

Basil's Bite
(from Mr. Boston Official Bartender Guide

3 basil leaves
2 ounces gin
1 barspoon Cynar
3/4 ounce Aperol

Muddle Basil leaves. Add ice and shake with remaining ingredients. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a small basil leaf.


Deposed Princess said...

LOL. I was searching for sources for Bail liquoir when I found your blog. I totally agree with your take on the Cynar label. Undersand your refernece to 19th C. veggie-tonic drinks -- I was on a mission to find a Sazarac last year because of an article I read on the history of coctails. Some drinks are better left in print.

Deposed Princess said...

oops -- multiple typos, especially for 'Basil' liquor.

Bruce said...

Don't worry about the misspellings; I knew what you meant! You made a solid point -- why do I keep finding myself getting disappointed by the disparity between liquors in review and liquors in reality?

Thanks for dropping in!